Zero Patience, Zero Wait: The New Customer Reality
Gone in half the blink of an eye. Online customers, that is. Visitors are less likely to return to a site that is even 250 milliseconds slower than a competing site, according to Harry Shum, a Microsoft executive who led research and development efforts for the Bing search engine.
That's an increment of time equal to about half the amount of time it takes a human to blink. This sentiment that milliseconds matter repeatedly has been echoed by Google scientists and other leading Web performance experts. Half a blink soon might shrink to a quarter or an eighth of a blink. Customers' expectations for page load times will continue to go down.
Anything lasting more than a second is jarring enough to break a user's flow, according to a Google study.
With unstable and unreliable mobile Internet across the globe, Google said, there's only one thing to do: Cut your website's load time to below two seconds, or face the consequences.
Lack of speed kills customer satisfaction. Slow sites also kill profits. 1 Second Can Boost Conversions by 2 percent Walmart Labs, has an engineering team in Silicon Valley that is strongly focused on Web performance. The goal of Walmart is to build a "zero-wait" experience for its users.
Through an analysis of real Walmart.com customer data, researchers found that customers who converted to a sale experienced page load times of 3.22 seconds. Customers who browsed but didn't buy experienced page load times of 6.02 seconds.
After Walmart optimized its sites to improve page load times, the operations team recorded that every 100ms improvement led to a 1 percent increase in incremental revenue and every 1 second improvement led to a 2 percent boost in conversion rates.
In other words, a quarter of the time it takes you to blink can mean an incremental revenue boost or decline of 1 percent. Given this clear evidence that speed is profitable, one would think that Web publishers would be rapidly speeding up their websites. In fact, that's not necessarily the case.
Sites Actually Not Speeding Up
Despite the growing evidence of the need for speed, site speed by some measures has actually gotten worse.
The median page load time was 9.3 seconds during the winter of 2013, based on tests of the leading 500 retail sites as ranked by Alexa. That was a significant increase from a median load time of 7.7 seconds in the same period a year earlier.
The slower median load time likely was due to the fact that the pages had grown by 31 percent in size, on average, over that period, according to the HTTP Archive.
At the same time, pages had grown more complex with more components baked into every page. The median time to interaction -- that is, the period during which a consumer waited before being able to click on something in a site -- was five seconds, well above what zero-patience consumers expect on today's networks and devices.
E-Commerce/M-Commerce: Showrooming Means Compare Now, Buy Now
Nowhere is the zero-patience problem more evident than with smartphones. The near ubiquity of smartphones is now well established. Two-thirds of U.S. mobile phone users owned smartphones in 2013.
In other markets, such as China and India, the percentage is even higher. Seventy-one percent of Chinese used mobile shopping, while only 32 percent Americans did, according to an April 2014 report by PriceWaterhouseCoopers. Thirty-seven percent of Chinese used a smartphone for making a dining reservation, while the percentage in America was only 13 percent; 35 percent of Chinese purchased stock using a smartphone, while only 5 percent of Americans did.
The smartphone often is used at the moment of physical purchase -- a moment when people definitely do not want to wait. During the holiday shopping season of 2013, 70 percent of shoppers used a mobile phone while in a retail store during the holidays. Of these, 62 percent accessed the store's site or app, and 37 percent accessed a competitor's site or app.
For shoppers who are looking to buy while not in the store, comparison sites and shopping engines make it very simple to purchase the same item from myriad vendors. In head-to-head competition, making users wait even 250 milliseconds means you have lost the zero-patience customers.
What About the Tools for Speed?
Unfortunately, the traditional tools for speeding up website performance cannot deliver the same type of performance boost for the newer generations of highly dynamic and mobile Web applications.
CDNs are designed primarily to deliver static cached content, and they struggle with highly personalized and mobile experiences that are now the norm for e-tail, travel, ticketing and SaaS Web apps.
Front-end optimization services and software promise to accelerate throughput of Web apps but often break websites, resulting in subpar user experiences. For these reasons, Web applications cannot rely on old solutions to accelerate performance and enhance user experiences.
Zero-patience is a trend that all companies delivering a product over the Internet will have to deal with in order to continue growing and to win more customers. With alarming rapidity, customers' expectations for Web experiences grow more and more demanding.
To date, many companies in the retail segment have delivered highly variable and often poor performance that puts them at risk of losing customers. To deal properly with the zero patience phenomenon, site publishers will need a whole new set of tools to speed up their websites and deliver premium, immersive experiences.
These tools will need to handle dynamic, personalized, client-centric Web applications without forcing numerous returns to the origin server to retrieve data, a long journey that impedes performance. The zero-patient phenomenon will drive development of an entirely new breed of zero-patience tools to speed up Web applications in ways never before possible.